Rouge with embarrassment: eight thoughts on the Elks’ single point loss to the Riders

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Edmonton Elks have found themselves on the wrong side of history yet again. For the first time in 58 years, they have started the season 0-5.

The latest loss, by a score of 12-11, came at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Thursday. Here are my thoughts on the game.

You Get A Rouge! And You Get A Rouge!

The story of this game hinged on all of the single points scored.

The Elks scored four in this game, with punter Jake Julien accounting for three of them. I was jokingly asked if we still had Jon Ryan on the team. At that point — pun totally intended– I was just happy to see points on the board. That was until the final minute…

With the game tied, my friend texted me that “it would only be fitting for this game to end on a rouge.” I think he meant something a little different.

The kickoff from Brett Lauther flew over young C.J. Sims’ head and the returner jogged nonchalantly toward it as it bounced into the endzone. He took a knee and the Riders took the lead; a costly learning moment for the rookie American.

The Canadian game can be a wonderful and merciless beast, and I have a hard time faulting Sims here. I can only throw the blame for this on the coaching staff for not properly emphasizing that the ball CAN NOT get into the endzone in that situation.

Cornelius Steps Forward

Taylor Cornelius was back as the starter and played with more fire than we have seen so far this season.

Much like he did in the final six games of last year, he used his legs to his advantage and was able to rush for a total of 58 yards and the Elks’ lone touchdown. He dealt with the pressure by moving the pocket more and connecting on some of the short passes he was missing in earlier games.

Cornelius’ composure on the first drive, running for three first downs while eating six minutes off the clock, was more what fans had expected coming out of training camp. His 226 yards passing was also the largest total of the season by the third-year QB. His offence led the time of possession by almost 15 minutes with only three two-and-out drives in the game. It seemed like the step forward we’ve been waiting for.

It is not all sunshine though, as there were some misfires in his 59 percent completion rate. Some balls were thrown too high, some too low and some just thrown away as the Riders’ D applied pressure the whole night. The game was sealed on an interception by Nick Marshall, with the Elks in field goal range late in the fourth quarter.

“You lead the whole game and for it to end like that, it just sucks,” Cornelius said after the game. “Hate it for the guys. Hate it that we ended it on a freaking interception when we are so close to field goal range. Just got to finish.”

Defence For 55 Minutes

The Edmonton defence had a bounce-back game overall and limiting the Riders to 78 yards rushing was a huge improvement from surrendering an average of 200 yards in the last two games.

Saskatchewan only converted 42 percent of their second-down opportunities, while the Elks forced six two-and-out drives and had four sacks. They won the turnover battle 3-1, with an interception in the end zone and a fumble recovery. Edmonton held Sask to three points in 55 minutes of game time. This was a Chris Jones defence.

Then, the wheels fell off. Trevor Harris moved the ball 70 yards in three and a half minutes to score the touchdown and two-point convert to tie the game. The defence looked gassed, as three games in 12 days caught up to them at exactly the wrong moment.

“The kids played hard and I had to take a timeout down there because the kids were so tired at the end of that drive,” Jones admitted post-game. “I was just trying to give them a little bit of something to get a blow and unfortunately, it didn’t help us. Three games in twelve days is hard on anybody.”

The O-Line Shuffle

The Elks’ offensive line was shuffled for most of the week in practice with the expectation that the newly signed Brett Boyko would join the group at right tackle. That changed just before the game and David Foucault started at right tackle, while rookie Phil Grohovac took over at left guard.

Foucault struggled early on and was beaten cleanly several times, while also getting called on a holding penalty that took a Steven Dunbar touchdown off the board. Grohovac did seem to hold his own and was able to open some running lanes.

For all the struggles the group has had, this was the first game they did not surrender a sack. The pressure was still on Cornelius all night, but the team found a way to avoid the bigger losses.

More Running

There was more commitment to the run in this game from offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo. Kevin Brown more than doubled his average run touches with 15 attempts for 65 yards. Shannon Brooks got into the action with six touches. It was far from pretty, but the balance in the run and pass attack sustained drives and opened up the possibility for play-action to actually work.

Trying To Be Faithfull

Rookie kicker, Dean Faithfull, had a rough night at the office. The good news is, they tried to give him a longer field goal attempt. The bad news is, he missed both of his kicks from 32 and 46 yards out.

The latter was returned by Mario Alford for a touchdown before it was called back on a holding penalty. To be fair, the placekicking unit has not had a lot of opportunities in games to come together. I’m trying to keep the faith they will get better.

Ref Crash

Chris Jones was in his normal stance on the sideline watching a play in the second half when the sideline ref running down the field crashed into him and immediately threw the flag. The new rule is that if the contact was unavoidable, it is an objectional conduct penalty.

Neither man was watching for the other, so the only explanation I can have for this was that Jones was standing too close to the white stripe. It’s always weird when you see those things happen for the first time. Hopefully, Jones learns his lesson and moves back about a yard.

Best of AC

A.C. Leonard had his best game in green and gold. He had been quiet in all statistical categories since joining the team in free agency this past spring but his four tackles in this game were all in the backfield, including three sacks. He added a forced fumble for good measure.

It was exciting to see Leonard play up to the expectations we had for him coming in. I only suggest that he learn from Jake Ceresna and watch where he aims his celebration somersaults.

The Elks now have a full week to recover and prepare. They will try and avoid setting the pro sports record for losses at home when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next Thursday night at Commonwealth.

Andrew Hoskins is a lifelong Edmonton resident and the host of the Turf District Podcast.